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2006 Preview: Quarterbacks

Finally I can get to my season previews and with two-a-days coming up in the next few weeks the timing could not be better.

Starter: Drew Weatherford, So.
Top Reserve: Xavier Lee, So.
Remaining Scholarship QBs: D'Vontrey Richardson, Fr.; Christian Ponder, Fr.
Remaining Non-Scholarship QBs: Tommy Keane, Sr.

Overall: For the first time since 1996, FSU has depth and stability at the quarterback position. The Chris Weinke years were stable, not deep and the Chris Rix years were neither. So the Seminoles have a clear-cut starter in Weatherford, who is a natural leader and a team favorite, he is also a diligent worker in the film room and in practice. His only flaws appear to be physical. One of my friends is a little blunter where he compares Weatherford to Wyatt Sexton in physical ability. I disagree in that case as Weatherford clearly has a stronger arm and more mobility. Lee is the polar opposite of Weatherford in terms of preparation and ability. No one questions Lee's talent and if it came to a physical combine comparing the two signal callers, Lee would win virtually every event. That being said his shoulder injury and lack of preparation put him in the backup position with a very small window to improve that status.

More below the jump.

Weatherford's Pros: As I said, his work ethic and ability to lead has won him over more with the team than anything he's done on the field. He is the anti-Rix in terms of personality and a breath of fresh air for a coaching staff that struggled with quarterbacks in the last half century. A friendly guy and great teammate, but he's got a strong competitive streak. Physically he's at his best throwing short and short-intermediate routes with anything between 5-17 yards being in his wheelhouse. He's a lot more mobile than he is given credit for. A former safety and special teams player in high school, Weatherford is an athlete. Proof of his athletic ability would be his touchdown scramble in last season's 38-27 victory over Maryland. The run not only gave the Seminoles a come-from-behind victory, but showed another dimension of his skills.

Weatherford's Cons: His most successful passing games came against the Seminoles' weakest opposition. He had a 6-13, TD-to-Interception ratio against bowl team's and his weakness to throw over a medium zone was exposed by Virginia and became a common defense against him for the second-half of the season when FSU abandoned the running game. The interceptions can be chalked to his inexperience, but 14 of the 18 picks came after his first four games. This could be chalked up to inexperienced, but Weatherford threw 19 interceptions in his senior year of high school as well. It's rare for a quarterback of Weatherford's talent in high school to throw so many interceptions.

People constantly want to compare Weatherford's season with Rix's and statistically Rix holds quite an advantage in terms of his efficiency and, believe it or not, turnovers.

Player:     Weatherford        Rix

Yards:      3,208            2,734
Completions:    276            165
Yards Per Comp.: 11.62            16.57
Completion Pct: 58.8            57.7
Touchdowns:    18            24
Interceptions:    18            13

Obviously the first things that stick out are that Rix posted huge numbers with only 165 completions. He was also flanked by a much better running game and a better offensive line that he was often known for pissing off (Antoine Mirambeau and Todd Williams most specifically). Rix attempted 10 more passes than Weatherford completed. Bottom line is Rix was a hell of a quarterback as a freshman and his numbers compare with some of the best freshman seasons by any quarterback. When happened to Rix after that is beyond me.

Comparing schedules: The schedules were alike for the most part although Rix had a harder out-of-conference game against UAB than Weatherford had against The Citadel. Both actually played and defeated Virginia Tech. Rix played Georgia Tech at home while Weatherford played Boston College on the road, both won 28-17 (how odd is that). Weatherford gets the nod there because the BC game was a road game and the third game of the season. Rix played Georgia Tech in the season finale (it was scheduled for the third game of the season, but 9-11 changed everything). Also supporting Weatherford is the Seminoles only gained 13 yards rushing, putting all the onus on a freshman QB and he performed.

Miami Game: Rix usually showed up small in Miami games and his freshman year was no exception as he turned the ball over six times that led to 35 points for Miami. Oddly enough FSU gained 488 yards in that game so the turnovers should be directly blamed for the loss. Weatherford's numbers against Miami were terrible as well (7-24, 67 yards, one interception), but he got the breaks and got the victory so he gets the CLEAR edge.

Big Victories: Weatherford got wins over Miami, at Boston College and Virginia Tech in the ACC Championship Game. Rix can take joy with wins against Maryland (who won the ACC title that year), at Clemson and against Virginia Tech in the Gator Bowl.

Worst Losses: The Virginia game was the start of disaster for Weatherford but the losses to N.C. State, Clemson and Florida were the most embarrassing. Rix's first loss, a 41-9 thumping at North Carolina was a vicious wake up call. Losses to Miami and Florida were also disappointing. Both suffered a tough-luck loss as Weatherford was done in by poor kicking against Penn State and Rix was done in by a dropped pass in the end zone in a 34-28 loss to N.C. State.

Numbers: Weatherford was clearly better against the weaker opposition; he posted 300+ yard games against The Citadel (342), Wake Forest (351) and in the loss to Virginia (377). His highest completion percentage games were against Duke (75.0), Maryland (73.0) and The Citadel (70.3).  

Rix's 300-yard games were against Wake Forest (341), Maryland (350), N.C. State (302), Clemson (369) and Virginia Tech (326). His highest completion percentage games were against Wake Forest (76.2), Florida (66.7) and UAB (65.2.)

Bottom Line: What I get out of all of these numbers is that Rix had a high ceiling, probably higher than that of Weatherford, but he didn't have the work ethic of Weatherford and that's why he never got better. I have full faith Weatherford will try to right his wrongs and improve the areas he lacked. Rix didn't seem to care about his flaws and figured he could overcome them with raw talent. He didn't.

Lee's Pros: Lee might be the best overall athlete on the team. He's not the mobile quarterback people might think. He has speed, but he prefers to be a drop-back passer. He has a rocket arm and his throwing motion looks effortless. Even with an injured shoulder Lee had little problems throwing the deep ball. He comes from a spread offense in high school that is similar to what would be run at Texas Tech or under a Hal Mumme influence so he should be as adapt at the quick pass as he is with the deep ball.

Lee's Cons: It took him the better part of a year to take a snap under center as he had worked out of a shotgun for all of his quarterbacking life. In a way the more conservative FSU offense fits him like a square peg in a round hole, so it's a possibility he's 5-10 years too late. Lee doesn't seem to have the studier mindset yet as it was clearly obvious his knowledge of the playbook lacked behind Weatherford's and according to the coaches he had the offense lined up in the more formation on more than a couple of occasions.

The Best of the Rest: Keane is the scout team quarterback and will remain third on the depth chart unless injury says otherwise. Ponder enrolled early and got reps with the second-team over the spring while Lee was recovering from shoulder surgery. Ponder, a prospect from Texas, predictably struggled and even with the six-month head start doesn't seem to grasp the position as well as Richardson, a Georgia prospect who joined the team a few weeks ago. Both expect to be redshirted, but if injury forced one to play I would expect Richardson might even get the slight nod. In the end FSU has put themselves in a solid quarterback position with experience at the two-deep and two young prospects that will have 2-3 years to develop.

2006 Prospectus: While I believe Weatherford is very safe as the starting quarterback there is a reason why Lee chose not to transfer and it's either because the coaches promised they would think out of the box to give him more opportunities to play or they would give him a legitimate opportunity to challenge for the starting position. I'm leaning towards the former. Weatherford should improve his turnover ratio and should perform better in the big games this season. Frankly, he needs to. He needs to beat N.C. State before anyone discusses his ability to win a national title. With Miami and Clemson as two of the first three games, the opportunity to make a statement will be in his court. As for Lee, he should monitor the career of Troy Smith. Smith was second-string behind Justin Zwick at Ohio State until the Texas game showed Jim Tressel enough that he felt like Smith's ability gave Ohio State better long-term hope despite the fact that Zwick had played admirably when given an opportunity. Smith took his chance and the Buckeyes went 9-1 for the rest of the season. Lee needs to make a statement in training camp that he is a legitimate option to get into games and he has to hope that the Seminole coaches aren't afraid to give him the chance (and Bowden has proven he's not the coach he was 10 years ago when it comes to taking chances). Weatherford can't become complacent and he can't become mediocre. He can't be good, he has to strive to be great. The best way to avoid giving Lee the opportunity to impress is to be more impressive from the start. All in all, the Seminole situation at quarterback is healthy and stable, but it's not without concerns.